+1 212 318 2000
Europe, Middle East, & Africa
+44 20 7330 7500
+65 6212 1000
By Theodore Seto, Loyola Law School, Los Angeles
How can I maximize my chances of becoming a partner at a national law firm? Where should I attend law school? If I’m already a student, where can I expect to have my best shot at national law firm partnership?
For many years now, law students have been forced to rely on either the U.S. News rankings or anecdote and opinion to answer this kind of question. U.S. News tells us how selective schools are and what kinds of resources they provide (faculty/student ratios, expenditures/student, library books). But it tells us precious little about outcomes – about how students who attend this school or that ultimately do.
New data is now available with regard to an outcome important to at least some students: partnership in national law firms. An article entitled “Where Do Partners Come From?,” forthcoming in the Journal of Legal Education and available on SSRN, reports the results of a year-long study of partners in the 100 largest U.S. law firms (the “NLJ 100”), focusing on those who received their JD degree within the past 25 years.1
The study reaches three major conclusions:
For current and prospective law students, the second finding is the most important. Local schools dominate the major legal markets:
Indeed, the study finds that location predicts partnering patterns far more reliably than U.S. News rank.
On lists of the top 10 feeder schools in each of the 10 largest U.S. legal markets, for example, Yale appears just twice: 10th in New York and 7th in Washington, DC. Stanford appears only on the California lists: 10th in Los Angeles, 8th in San Francisco, and 5th in San Diego.
Only one law school appears on all ten lists: Harvard.
The article computes a national impact score for each U.S. law school based on the extent to which it contributes significantly to NLJ 100 partner ranks in more than one of the ten largest U.S. legal markets.2 The top six:
|2||Georgetown||38||All except Atlanta and Dallas|
|3||Virginia||20||DC, Boston, Atlanta, Dallas|
|4||Columbia||16||NY, DC, Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco|
|5||Michigan||15||DC, Chicago, San Francisco, Dallas, San Diego|
|6||Chicago||13||DC, Chicago, Dallas|
No other school makes the top 10 feeder school lists in more than two cities and more than one state.
Georgetown is the big surprise. Ranked only 14th by U.S. News, it makes the top 10 feeder school lists for eight of the ten largest U.S. legal markets. (It ranks 12th and 14th in the other two.) NYU is a bit of a surprise in the opposite direction; its graduates are dominant only in New York. Yale and Stanford are not significant players in the national NLJ 100 partner market.
In sum, the study strongly suggests that, in general, students should attend law school where they ultimately hope to practice. There may be a few exceptions to this rule: Harvard, Georgetown, Virginia, Columbia, Michigan, and Chicago. For the most part, however, attending a highly ranked school in another region may not be as direct a route to national law firm partnership as U.S. News may tempt one to believe.
A student whose life goal is to become a national law firm partner in Los Angeles, for example, should probably choose a law school in Los Angeles. Students at schools in other regions should not be surprised to find access to national law firm offices in Los Angeles more difficult to obtain.
The importance of this conclusion cannot be overstated: location, location, location.
Nevertheless, the article does provide a list of the top 150 NLJ 100 partner feeder schools nationwide.3 The top 25:
|Rank||School||1986-2011 Partners in the NLJ 100|
|25||Loyola Los Angeles||162|
What do these latter numbers mean?
These are aggregate numbers, not adjusted for class size. They measure the extent to which schools have established feeder relationships with the NLJ 100. That’s all.
They do not tell us whether a student is more likely to become an NLJ 100 partner if she attends one school rather than another. They do not imply, for example, that she should attend BU rather than Stanford. They do tell us, however, that BU does appear to have more established feeder relationships with the NLJ 100 than Stanford does.
All else being equal, feeder school status may be relevant – even if only as one factor among many.
A school that has placed larger numbers of partners in the NLJ 100 over the past 25 years is more likely to continue to attract NLJ 100 recruiters to its campus. Harvard, for example, attracts about 500 firms to its on-campus interviewing season each year; Yale only 125.
Hiring committees at such firms, in turn, are likely to assume that hiring from established feeder schools is normal and will likely be productive. All else being equal, students who aspire to join such firms may have more opportunities to do so if they attend schools with established feeder relationships.
It turns out that U.S. News rank is a very imperfect predictor of NLJ 100 feeder school status.
Chicago, for example, is roughly the same size as Yale and Stanford. Nevertheless, over the past 25 years, Chicago has graduated far more students who have gone on to become NLJ 100 partners. Georgetown, less than 30% larger than Texas (with which it is ranked equally by U.S. News), has produced almost twice as many NLJ 100 partners as the latter.
Down the list, production of NLJ 100 partners sometimes deviates even more dramatically from U.S. News rank. St. John’s, a school only slightly larger than the U.S. average, outperforms its U.S. News rank by an astonishing 53 places; Miami by 51 places; Villanova by 49; DePaul 47; Catholic 43; Loyola Chicago 42. The study even finds that several U.S. News “second tier” schools (roughly the bottom 50) – South Texas, Suffolk, and Widener among them – significantly outperform some of their “top 50” competitors.
Apart from geography and size, what explains such differences among schools? The answer is unclear.
It may be that a school’s admission practices – for example, taking prior work experience or challenges overcome into account, as opposed to admitting solely on LSATs and GPAs – select for students more likely to succeed in practice.
It may be that because of the culture of the school, graduates who accept associate positions do so seriously, with the intention of really trying to make partner, not just to “get some experience” before moving on.
It may even be that some schools provide superior preparation – that some schools teach law and/or practice skills more effectively than others.
Whatever the reason, 25 years of data is probably enough to capture real differences, even if it cannot explain them.
The ABA has recently called on law schools to do more to make their graduates “practice-ready.” Until schools answer that call, students may want to consider law schools’ relative success in placing partners in national law firms in making their decisions. New data is now available to help them do so.
Theodore Seto is Professor of Law and William M. Rains Fellow at Loyola Law School, Los Angeles, where he teaches tax, property law, and public finance. He is a magna cum laude graduate of Harvard Law School, where he served as Executive Editor of the Harvard Law Review, a former Second Circuit clerk, and a former partner at Drinker Biddle & Reath, Philadelphia. He has taught at Cornell and the University of Paris X and published in the Yale Law Journal, the Tax Law Review, and the University of Pennsylvania Law Review, among others.
© 2011 Theodore Seto
This document and any discussions set forth herein are for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as legal advice, which has to be addressed to particular facts and circumstances involved in any given situation. Review or use of the document and any discussions does not create an attorney-client relationship with the author or publisher. To the extent that this document may contain suggested provisions, they will require modification to suit a particular transaction, jurisdiction or situation. Please consult with an attorney with the appropriate level of experience if you have any questions. Any tax information contained in the document or discussions is not intended to be used, and cannot be used, for purposes of avoiding penalties imposed under the United States Internal Revenue Code. Any opinions expressed are those of the author. The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. and its affiliated entities do not take responsibility for the content in this document or discussions and do not make any representation or warranty as to their completeness or accuracy.
All Bloomberg BNA treatises are available on standing order, which ensures you will always receive the most current edition of the book or supplement of the title you have ordered from Bloomberg BNA’s book division. As soon as a new supplement or edition is published (usually annually) for a title you’ve previously purchased and requested to be placed on standing order, we’ll ship it to you to review for 30 days without any obligation. During this period, you can either (a) honor the invoice and receive a 5% discount (in addition to any other discounts you may qualify for) off the then-current price of the update, plus shipping and handling or (b) return the book(s), in which case, your invoice will be cancelled upon receipt of the book(s). Call us for a prepaid UPS label for your return. It’s as simple and easy as that. Most importantly, standing orders mean you will never have to worry about the timeliness of the information you’re relying on. And, you may discontinue standing orders at any time by contacting us at 1.800.960.1220 or by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Put me on standing order at a 5% discount off list price of all future updates, in addition to any other discounts I may quality for. (Returnable within 30 days.)
Notify me when updates are available (No standing order will be created).